Ensemble Matheus was given the nod to record Vivaldi's Orlando furioso for Naïve's Vivaldi Edition in 2005, although there were already a couple of complete recordings by that point. The work was given its modern revival back in the 1970s, and Marilyn Horne continued her association with the opera from that point to a performance at San Francisco Opera, which was captured on DVD. Now another fine Italian historically informed performance ensemble, Modo Antiquo, has offered up another recording, on the cpo label. Federico Maria Sardelli's group contributed the wonderful recording of Atenaide to the Vivaldi Edition but has also been recording its own Vivaldi series with cpo, of which this opera is the third installment after Arsilda and Tito Manlio (all with Carnival masks on the covers). Unfortunately, the cpo sets are far more expensive than their competition, making the Naïve set of Orlando furioso a much better deal, now discounted to about half the price of this set.
Vivaldi, Orlando furioso, A. Desler, N. Kennedy, L. Dordolo, Modo Antiquo, F. M. Sardelli
(released May 27, 2008)
cpo 777 095-2
The libretto by Grazio Braccioli, with numerous additions and changes, is a free, somewhat clumsy adaptation of Ariosto's fantasy epic of the same name, a source of a dizzying number of operas in the first two centuries of operatic history. Actually, Sardelli's recording predates Spinosi's for the Vivaldi Edition, as this live CD was captured at the Opera Barga Festival in 2002. The sound in Barga's Chiesa del Santissimo Crocifisso is generally good, although the Orlando, mezzo-soprano Anne Desler, consistently sounds a little hazy and distant. Whether this contributes to or is an attempt to compensate for her unsatisfactory sound is difficult to know, but her performance is disappointing (contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux is much better on Spinosi's recording), in spite of a disturbing unhinged quality to her mad scenes (as in Act III, where Orlando dances crazily to the strains of the Follia melody). Still, her murky top lacks clarity for the ringing high parts, and she often sounds spindly and out of tune. To be fair, it's a bitch of a role, requiring a top-notch singer, which she is not yet. The Angelica of Nicki Kennedy is only slightly better, with questionable Italian pronunciation and an errant vibrato, and mezzo-soprano Lucia Sciannimanico does not really have the lower range surety needed for Bradamante, resulting in a harsh tone and inaccurate runs (again Spinosi's recording has a much better Ann Hallenberg).
Happily, the rest of the cast is better. Oddly, the role of Medoro, intended by Vivaldi for a castrato and given to a mezzo-soprano in Spinosi's recording, is here assigned to tenor Luca Dordolo. The choice must have involved some transpositions, but Dordolo has a suave sound, especially impressive in his first aria ("Rompo i ceppi"). In the other castrato role, Ruggiero, countertenor Thierry Gregoire makes a consistently pleasing, sweet sound, if not as good as Philippe Jaroussky on the Ensemble Matheus recording. Marina De Liso's Alcina has some nice turns, and the Astolfo of bass-baritone Martin Kronthaler is gruff and snarly in his rage arias "Benché nasconda" (Act II) and "Dove il valor combatte" (Act III).
The best part of this recording is the playing of Sardelli's group, Modo Antiquo, and it is too bad that the voices are not uniformly up to snuff, as they were in his Atenaide. The whole ensemble gives a fine performance, marked by unity of intonation and attack, in the interpolated overture: the manuscript does not include one, but Sardelli uses another Vivaldi sinfonia ("Farnace," RV 711). Individually, the trumpets sound strong and clear in the chorus "Gran madre Venere," and there is an incredibly gorgeous recorder obbligato on Ruggiero's "Sol per te mio dolce amore," which I think must have been played by Sardelli himself (not credited but Sardelli is listed as the principal on the group's Web site). At fast tempos, the group is like a buzzing, boiling tempest of sound.